For 17 years, the ''Don't Ask, Don't Tell'' (DADT) law has been a major barrier on the road to equality for the 65,000 gay and lesbian patriots in the U.S. military. This is the only law in the country that condones job discrimination based on sexual orientation. Every day the military loses at least one more service member under the ban -- 14,000 total since 1994.
I was fired from the military under DADT. After serving in the Air Force for six years, I was outed by a colleague and discharged in 2002. Even though I was one of the top airman in my flight, my service was cut short because of my sexual orientation. The story of Air Force Lt. Col. Victor Fehrenbach also demonstrates how the gay ban hurts our service members: This brave patriot has served with honor and distinction for 18 years, earning nine Air Medals and numerous honors, but because he was outed, Fehrenbach now stands to lose his career and millions in retirement benefits.
The disproportionate impact of DADT on women is a further illustration of why this ban is archaic. While women only represent roughly 14 percent of the armed forces, they account for nearly half of all DADT discharges in the Air Force and Army. Former National Guard specialist Amy Brian experienced this discrimination firsthand. Brian, who served in Iraq and was out to all of her comrades, was discharged in 2009 after she was reportedly seen kissing her partner in a Wal-Mart checkout line.
This discrimination can be put to an end this year, but our leaders need to act. President Obama plays an especially pivotal role. If he were to take the lead on ending the law, it would send a clear signal to Congress and the Pentagon that DADT must go.
An overwhelming majority of Americans now support open service, and for the first time a clear majority of conservatives – 58 percent – wants repeal, according to Gallup. Military attitudes are changing too. A majority of younger troops believe job performance is unrelated to sexual orientation, according to Zogby.
Earlier this month, SLDN launched the Lead the Way Campaign (www.sldn.org) urging President Obama to fulfill his repeated promise to lift the ban by adding repeal language to his defense-budget bill in coming weeks. It was through the defense budget that DADT became law in 1993, and it is through this same budget that DADT should be scrapped. As recently as October, the president reiterated his commitment to allow open service: ''I will end 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell.''' Now is his chance to actually do it.
Last year advocates of repeal made significant progress. Almost 190 House co-sponsors signed onto HR 1283, the Military Readiness Enhancement Act.
We stand on the verge of achieving major policy breakthroughs. This year, we expect the Senate to soon hold hearings on DADT repeal for the first time. As prospects for repeal grow, however, so do the hysterics of our opponents.
Opponents continue to dust off old arguments, claiming that open service will hurt unit cohesion and will cause straight service members to flee the ranks. Yet thousands of gay and lesbian service members already fight alongside their straight colleagues every day, without incident. And 24 countries, including Israel and Great Britain, allow open service in their militaries without detriment to recruitment, retention or readiness. Since implementing open service, the predicted mass flight of straight service members has not come to pass.
Congress and the president need to hear from you. Our gay and lesbian service members are counting on you. Call the White House switchboard today at 202-456-1414.
Former U.S. Air Force Staff Sergeant David Hall was fired from the military under ''Don't Ask, Don't Tell'' in 2002. Since being discharged, Hall joined SLDN, where he now works as development director and information technology Manager.